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The Case for Retiring Flexibility as a Major Component of Physical Fitness

Abstract

Flexibility refers to the intrinsic properties of body tissues that determine maximal joint range of motion without causing injury. For many years, flexibility has been classified by the American College of Sports Medicine as a major component of physical fitness. The notion flexibility is important for fitness has also led to the idea static stretching should be prescribed to improve flexibility. The current paper proposes flexibility be retired as a major component of physical fitness, and consequently, stretching be de-emphasized as a standard component of exercise prescriptions for most populations. First, I show flexibility has little predictive or concurrent validity with health and performance outcomes (e.g., mortality, falls, occupational performance) in apparently healthy individuals, particularly when viewed in light of the other major components of fitness (i.e., body composition, cardiovascular endurance, muscle endurance, muscle strength). Second, I explain that if flexibility requires improvement, this does not necessitate a prescription of stretching in most populations. Flexibility can be maintained or improved by exercise modalities that cause more robust health benefits than stretching (e.g., resistance training). Retirement of flexibility as a major component of physical fitness will simplify fitness batteries; save time and resources dedicated to flexibility instruction, measurement, and evaluation; and prevent erroneous conclusions about fitness status when interpreting flexibility scores. De-emphasis of stretching in exercise prescriptions will ensure stretching does not negatively impact other exercise and does not take away from time that could be allocated to training activities that have more robust health and performance benefits.

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Nuzzo, J.L. The Case for Retiring Flexibility as a Major Component of Physical Fitness. Sports Med (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-019-01248-w

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